Best strategy for pairs in blackjack

In this final installment of our three-part series of articles about the basic blackjack chart, we’ll talk about how to play pairs.  Online casino gaming has exploded in popularity in the last ten years.  In that time, gaming at Springbok, the top online casino for South Africa has grown by massive amounts. 

Blackjack is one of the games that lend themselves perfectly to the online gaming platforms we offer as the graphics that have been developed in the last few years are so much better than the graphics that obtained twenty years ago and because blackjack is a game that pits player against casino.

It remains to the player to play each hand using optimum strategy.  Thus, this series! 

Obvious Pairs

There are two sets of pairs for which the best strategy is obvious.  You should always split aces as it gives you two excellent chances to score a blackjack.  Getting blackjack that pays 3-2 is one of the best ways to bring the return to player rate for a session of blackjack as close to 100% as possible.

So, even if the dealer has an ace or a 10-point card showing, you should split a pair of aces.

The other obvious pair is two ten-point cards.  With 20 points, you stand every time.  The chances of improving a split ten-point card is t get an ace.  So, it is far better to stand. 

Pair of Eights

This is the only other pair for which the best strategy is the same no matter what card the dealer has showing.  It might not seem obvious that if the dealer shows a five or six that the player should split a pair of eights but we defer to the statistics in this as in every strategy matter.

Sixteen points is the worst hand you can have.  If you have a hard 16 points without a pair of eights and if the dealer shows a 7 or better, you should surrender if the blackjack variation you are playing allows it.

So, standing with 16 points seems to make little sense.  It makes even less sense if you can improve the hand to 18.  There is also the possibility of getting a 2 or a 3 at which point you would double down.  You might get an ace which would improve the hand to 19 points.  So, there are 12 cards that can help you dramatically plus the 10-point cards that will bring your count to 18.

In short, splitting eights is actually a very powerful strategic play; one that often results in big gains despite the player starting out with a very bad point count!

Pair of Nines

This adds up to 18 points which statistically is not a great holding.   When we spoke about a pair of eights, we said that you could improve to 18 points.  In that circumstance, the statistics tell us that splitting eights is the best play.

When we have a pair of nines, we should be trying to improve over the 18 points we already have.  Any ten-point card will bring us up to 19 points and an ace will get us to 20 points. A 2 will give us a great doubling down position.

So, it seems that splitting nines is the best play in all cases.  However, there are three cases when splitting nines is not good strategy.  If the dealer has a 7 showing, he can hit a 10 for 17 points and your 18 wins.  The other two cases where splitting nines is not the best play is when the dealer shows a 10-point card or an ace.  In these cases, statistics tell us that splitting nines is a losing play in the long run.

Sevens and Sixes

In these pairs we see one of the main strategic aspects of splitting: this tactic gives us the chance to win twice even with low point counts if the dealer busts.  Since the goal of every player is to reach 100% or better in their return to player rate, we need to understand that it helps us to “allow” the house to lose twice on the same hand!

So, always split sevens unless the house shows an 8 or better and always split sixes unless the house shows 7 or better.


This is the only pair for which the best strategy is never to split!  This is somewhat obvious as a pair of fives is 10 points, a perfect hand to double down with.  Similarly, a five may become 15 points which is far worse than drawing to a 10 count.  So, the best strategy with a pair of fives is to double down unless the dealer is showing a 10-point card or an ace.


If you split fours, you might end up standing twice with 14 points.  However, this is okay if the dealer is showing a 5 or a 6.  In those cases, you stand a good chance of winning twice even with 13 or 14 points!  In all other situations, your best play is to hit.  This is an attempt to improve to 18 points.  However, you should never double down with a pair of fours because 18 points is still not the great hand so many players think it is.

Threes and Twos

Here we need to discuss the value of 3 or 2 in the dealer’s hand.  She has many ways to bust, of course, but she also has many ways to improve to 17-21 points.  So, we recommend following the strategy card exactly when the dealer has these two poor hands. 

When the player gets a pair of threes or a pair of twos, the best play is to split them in all cases except when the dealer shows 8 or better.  This might seem odd as if the dealer shows a 7, she might also beat our 12 or 13 point hands.  However, statistically, it is better to split twos and threes even when the dealer is showing a 7.  This play gives players the chance to win twice against the dealers’ eventual bust.

Splitting Can Take Advantage of the Dealer

To conclude our tutorial, remember that many strategy plays are meant simply to take advantage of the dealer’s relatively weak position.  This is the best, and in fact the only way, for the player to even the odds with the house.